WWhy does Lewis Hamilton need a rearview mirror? The competition seems out of sight. Before the seventh Formula 1 race of the season this Sunday in Spa-Francorchamps (3.10 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker on Formula 1, on RTL and Sky), the world champion is already leading the drivers’ standings with 37 points ahead of Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. Hamilton is in the shape of his life, in top shape, focused, hungry for 88 wins. The Mercedes was unbeatable in five of the past six Grand Prix.
Only in the great heat did the lead melt away once only thanks to the combination of car and tires: at Silverstone. This weekend the end of summer in the High Fens is announced with at most 20 degrees Celsius. Mercedes weather. In any case, the world championship team is most likely to be able to bring the tires to the best temperature on a cool surface. Then it goes to Monza, then to Mugello, via Russia, the Eifel in October, Portugal, Italy again to Istanbul.
Most of the remaining eleven Grand Prix, apart from the finals in Bahrain (two races) and Abu Dhabi (December 13), will be driven in the European autumn. Nevertheless, when looking back, Hamilton discovers a point that urges him to be careful. “If you take Max’s failure in the first race into account, then he would be close on points. We’re faster in qualifying. It’s tighter in the race. Red Bull is still in the title race. We have to stay vigilant. I have an eye on it. “
A certain consideration is part of the champions’ tactic of staying ahead as long as possible. Their skepticism is supposed to keep the engine of the whole operation going. And so Mercedes is working around the clock to improve the Silver Arrow. The world championship team in Belgium could do so with ease. What counts in Spa is what distinguishes the chief pilot and the racing car: steering at the limit over a lap, racing intelligence, aerodynamic efficiency and the extra power in the rear.
The Mercedes is fast in the famous Eau Rouge corner and the long straight that follows with a full throttle time of 25 seconds, although the wings are steep enough in the wind to give the car a lot of downforce on the following winding downhill section. Fast on the straights, fast in the corners, only the strongest can do that. The lead over the competition grew in the Corona year. Who should still intercept Mercedes, Hamilton?
Max Verstappen. In any case, that’s Red Bull’s answer. Sports director Helmut Marko doesn’t hesitate for a moment when asked about a comparison with Hamilton. The Austrian doesn’t count the victories, the titles, he looks at the times and the conditions under which they arise: “I think they are on the same level.” Verstappen is the only one who can keep up with Mercedes. Everyone else is in nowhere. The only thing missing is the car for a thrilling generation duel on the racetrack. “We will not give up. That’s the mentality of this team, ”says the 22-year-old Dutchman. “We fight until the end. I believe that we can still do it. ”On Friday he set the fastest time in practice.
Because Red Bull rotates? The Austrian racing team came to the Grand Prix in Spa with new parts to kick off the speed series: In Spa, a week later in Monza and in mid-September in Mugello, Formula 1 drives on so-called power tracks, i.e. on Mercedes terrain. If the connection succeeds in the beginning, then Verstappen’s hope could turn into confidence. Especially since the race for the lead in Formula 1 2020 could determine the pecking order in the following season as seldom before. For 2021, the teams agreed because of the corona restrictions, the cars may hardly be changed. If you are fast today, you will also be fast tomorrow. Especially Mercedes with “this great package”, as Red Bull’s team boss Christian Horner admitted on Friday: “You did a very, very good job in winter.”
The prospect of concretizing the hierarchy has apparently convinced the Formula 1 strategists to intervene. At least team boss Toto Wolff believes that the International Automobile Federation (Fia) is trying to slow down his racing team by banning the “party mode”, including in qualifying training. At the push of a button, the drivers have significantly more horsepower available at short notice – depending on the drive manufacturer.
That will be the end of the race in Monza. The Fia justifies its latest directive, among other things, with a not entirely new self-awareness: Overload. In view of the complex technology, you cannot control the legality. She promptly changes the rules of the game while the competition is running. A sacrilege in serious sport that thrives on an inviolable competitive spirit.
There were enough bad experiences with attempts to balance the performance among the participants in other racing series, based on an unsporting motto: Everyone should win sometime. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wolff fears about the “value of sport”. The previously slower competition seems more generous. “We believe,” says Red Bull’s head of sport, Marko, “that we will be in a better position for the entire weekend with the elimination of the qualifying modes.”